The truth is, most of us have negative body image sometimes. Some days we feel happy or neutral about the way we look and the body we exist in, and some days we might feel very negative about our body or the way we look. We might struggle with disliking our body because of something someone said to us, or the constant stream of photoshopped and unrealistic images of bodies in the media. Or we may just have a belief that there is something about our bodies that doesn’t measure up to our own or someone else’s standard. Sometimes this negative perception-of-self leads to missing out on fully enjoying an experience because we feel self-conscious, or we get caught up in negative self talk that leads to negative moods. If this is something that is holding you back from living your best life, you may want to consider some ways that you can manage these thoughts and feelings.
Be Gentle With Yourself
The first way you can deal with negative perception of your body is by focusing on being kind to yourself and your body. If we are feeling bad about our bodies or the way we look it may lead to being very critical and hard on ourselves. We might get caught up in self talk about why we don’t eat better, exercise more, find clothes that are more flattering and on and on until we feel like total garbage not only about how we look, but our actions and who we are as a person. Sometimes the best way to reset is to do something kind for yourself or your body. Take a bubble bath, put on body lotion, stretch or put on comfy clothes. Make sure you are drinking enough water, and feed yourself something that will make you feel great. Being gentle with yourself may include accepting that you are struggling with how you look and choosing to treat yourself how you would treat a friend who confides they don’t like they way they look. Be kind in your words(thoughts) and actions. Give yourself permission to take care of your body and be kind and gentle.
Focus On "My body is an instrument, not an ornament." by Lindsay Kite, in her Ted Talk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDowwh0EU4w&feature=youtu.be
This is an idea that can really shift your mindset, because our culture often reduces people to bodies. The truth is we are so much more than the body we live in! Your body is simply a vessel that allows you to learn, teach, serve, connect, grow, think, work, move, and love. When you are struggling with the way your thighs or arms look try to focus on your body as an instrument that allows you to live an amazing life. Your legs carry you as your work, exercise, and travel. Your arms are an instrument that allows you to hug a friend, reach out to a partner, or hold a baby. You can focus on your body as an instrument by serving others, connecting with loved ones, engaging in exercise that makes you feel strong and empowered. It’s easy to get caught up in viewing our bodies as something to be looked at and admired because that’s what the media often focuses on, but when we use our bodies to engage in the important parts of life that make us feel great those messages don’t matter as much.
Get Inspired to Live (and Love) Your Life
Try surrounding yourself with people and organizations that inspire you. If you are surrounded by and engaged with organizations and people that are really meaningful for you about it’s harder to get hung up on distress over how your body looks and let that hold you back. This is a huge advantage of living in a time when we have so much access to social media because we can use our social media to focus on things we are passionate about. One of my favorite sources of body positivity that focuses on humans as more than bodies is Beauty Redefined(link). I follow them on instagram and they post amazing quotes and clips that inspire me. For you, it might be something totally different like rock-climbing, woodworking, a non profit that works for a cause you believe in, looking at or petting adorable puppies, home renovation projects, spending more time with family, learning about a place you want to travel to, or motivational words from a leader in your church but try to incorporate things on social media or in real life that inspire you to live your life. You may still notice some negative thoughts and feelings of discomfort about your body but if you feel inspired it might make the difference between discomfort holding you back and being able to push through those feelings and get involved in things that are really meaningful to you.
Challenge The Thought
Another way you can deal with negative perception of your body is by noticing and challenging your thoughts. It might be helpful to be mindful and try to notice the types of thoughts you have about your body or appearance. It makes sense that we will feel differently or have a different mindset if our thoughts are are “I feel so fat today” or “My body looks gross” like a broken record playing over and over again all day long. If we are able to notice these thoughts and how they are impacting our mood and behavior we can start trying to do something different. If you have a bad body image moment and the thought typically causes you to have spiral of further negative thoughts about yourself that lasts the rest of the day you can begin to address this pattern by challenging your thoughts with different rational like “I didn’t like the way I looked in that shirt, but I know I can find something I feel great in”. If you start feeling bad about yourself try challenging that thought with thinking of something you like about yourself or try to find an affirmation. One way you can challenge negative thoughts and behaviors as a result of negative perceptions of your body is covered in our video about Opposite Action (link).
Reach Out To Others
If you notice you have tried many of these things and are still struggling it might be time to reach out for some support. You can confide in a trusted friend or family member. It’s helpful to confide in someone you trust for support, or to help you figure out what else you can do. If you are engaging in unhelpful or extreme behaviors as a result of negative body image you likely will need to work with a professional such as a dietician, doctor, counselor or therapist. It’s helpful to have an objective third party individual to talk to because friends and family often express compliments or suggestions but aren’t able to understand the significance of how you feel or what you can do to really start feeling better.
I specialize in working with people with body image issues and insecurities and I’d love to help you. You can reach me at 435-799-5035 or firstname.lastname@example.org. If you need additional support, you can contact the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at (800) 931-2237.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDowwh0EU4w&feature=youtu.be https://beautyredefined.org https://www.facebook.com/familysolutionsutah/videos/237228546885330/https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline
A beautiful sunset overlooking a sweeping green vista. Swelling instrumental music with a powerful, clear voice singing a meaningful ballad. A quiet moment with a loved one and suddenly your heart swells with love and adoration for them. What do these things have in common? These are the human moments that create connection to our spiritual selves. When I left organized religion behind, I was afraid (and told) I would lose the comfort that comes from these beautiful moments. The moments where you feel warmth in your chest and clarity of mind. I was told I wouldn’t “feel the spirit” any more if I didn’t attribute these moments to God speaking truth of his existence and love for me.
Luckily, I discovered these comforting moments-- such as when you feel not so alone in your troubles, feel like everything’s going to work out okay (or at least for the best) or that love is in abundance-- are sought and found by Catholics, Buddhists and Atheists, alike. They are not a ™ of any particular religion or belief system! In fact, I have the ability (as we all do) to invoke this emotional state at almost any time. Here's how:
What is it about music that can cause us to feel so deeply? There are lots of evolution-based theories, such as the ones listed here, but scientists say that music triggers the reward, emotion and arousal centers of our brain. Whatever the reason, religion typically offers lots of musical experiences to help us connect to our spiritual side. You don’t need religion to find music that speaks to your soul. Whether you generally listen to scream-o or pop ballads, you should also look for songs to which you emotionally connect. Perhaps you heard s song in an emotional movie scene, or it was playing when something meaningful happened in your life. Try finding these tunes, melodies, or instrumentals and play them again to relive those moments and feel the warmth in your chest and tears in your eyes. I’ll give you some examples of music that does this for me:
This music gives me chills and immediately makes me think of my love for my spouse. Or the bridge in this song gets me every time. Ahh, youth. Wasn’t Leo so dreamy? This song is one chosen for all my grandma’s grandchildren to sing at her funeral. Since then, it quickly triggers feelings of peace and forgiveness for her as well as feelings of love and the support of my immediate family. If you read the YouTube comments under any of these songs, you’ll see the many comments about the emotional impact of them on people from all over. For me, they immediately trigger thoughts and feelings of love, belonging, connection, and beauty. I see the faces of my children, my spouse or my family and my heart swells with love and gratitude for each; while I simultaneously recognize the fragility of life and even a bit of impending existential loss.
And just to drive home the point, here is an adorable baby being triggered by mom’s singing!
We are also often spiritually in-tune when being part of nature. Whether it’s because you believe a god or gods created nature for man’s enjoyment, or because it’s our mother earth that provides literally everything and to whom we physically/evolutionarily belong, we feel great connection with nature. Nature is a fantastic place to meditate as well, and heighten the likelihood you will feel a spiritually elevated.
Meditation can come in many forms and what’s most important is that you find a method you will actually use. Robin Hunt, a therapist with Family Solutions has a great video demonstration on how to combine meditation and the outdoors. If you’re not likely to sit in nature and meditate, there’s an app for that! This app may help you learn to slow your breathing while concentrating on the beauty all around us. Build nature and meditation in to your day, even if it means sitting on your deck or porch while you sip your morning coffee. Focus on the warmth of the drink, your breathing between sips, your inner thoughts, or attempt to completely clear your mind. Whatever your technique, meditation can take you to a place of inner peace and calm.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, our connections to each other can create feelings of intense emotion and capture that soulful, spirituality we crave. I have vivid memories of adolescence: staying up late with friends and laying out on the trampoline under the stars, talking about life and our dreams and goals. I remember the moments I laid eyes on each of my children for the first time (after their birth or when first meeting them prior to adoption). And my heart still aches with love when I reach out to hold my husband’s hand and I think of his loving dedication to me and our children. That moment of connection, the memory of connection, and the hope for future connection fills our limbic systems with a flood of hormonal responses that give us the tingly feel-goods.
We can also experience a lesser known emotion called elevation when we watch humans “being bros” to other humans or animals. Want to know there is still good in the world? There’s a whole subreddit for that! And Youtube is full of heroic videos because as bad as we think the world is, there is actually so much good. Realizing that can help us feel connected as well.
See how you feel after watching videos such as these:
These heroic, peaceful, love-filled, nostalgic, connecting moments are ones we don’t experience often enough and I’d encourage you to attempt to experience one at least once a day. Religion offers music, opportunities to connect with other humans in shared belief, charitable acts and even quiet places of meditation. It is a great way to “feel the spirit.” But there are many other ways to experience these emotions that don't require religion if you seek them out. Ultimately, these emotions are a form of mindfulness that can help combat feelings of loneliness, stress, depression and anxiety.
For best results, mix and match or combine them all. Go for a walk with your child and belt out a favorite tune together. Attend an outdoor concert with a friend. Talk about life while watching fireworks and holding hands with a loved one. Who doesn't feel good watching Fourth of July fireworks with family and hearing "God Bless the USA" blasting in the background! Meditate in nature. Create the lasting moments that fuel whatever it is you believe we have: Spirits, souls, or powerhouse nervous systems that can bring us just as much elation as anxiety. Take advantage of what makes us unique as humans.
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